Wednesday, January 27, 2010

May 1940 British War Cabinet Crisis

"If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground."
Winston Churchill, May 1940

Winston Churchill speeches to Parliament and on the radio to the English People during World War II are well known but the above quote was from what Churchill told the British War Cabinet at a meeting on May 27,1940 and was not recorded and the only record of it is from notes by Hugh Dalton, a member of the Labour Party and the newly appointed Minister of Economic Warfare.

The British army had been cut off from the French on the Continent and were retreating to Dunkirk on the English Channel. The only hope of rescuing the ENTIRE British army was to evacuate them back to England from Dunkirk. Lord Halifax a member of the war cabinet and a rival of Churchill was advocating a negotiated peace with Hitler and the War Cabinet was deeply divided on the issue . Churchill as Prime Minister fought the cabinets impulse to end the war with a negotiated settlement over a period of a few days and finally at this meeting expressed his opinion on how they should proceed.

Churchill began his remarks by making no attempt to mitigate the seriousness of the situation Britain had found herself in.
The French had failed to make a push northwards from the Somme. They had too few Divisions between the sea and Amiens and their communications had been badly bombed. Therefore, though we had done our best from the north, it had been impossible to close the gap, and we were in grave danger of being surrounded. Now, therefore, it was necessary to fight our way through to the Channel Ports and get away all we could...We should certainly be able to get 50,000 away. If we could get 100,000 away, that would be a magnificent performance... ( In the end they actually evacuated 330,000 allied troops from Dunkirk) )have thought carefully in these last days whether it was part of my duty to consider entering into negotiations with That Man [Hitler]. But it was idle to think that, if we tried to make peace now, we should get better terms than if we fought it out. The Germans would demand our – that would be called disarmament – our naval bases, and much else. We should become a slave state, though a British Government which would be Hitler’s puppet would be set up – under Mosley or some such person. And where should we be at the end of all that? On the other side we have immense reserves and advantages. And I am convinced that every one of you would rise up and tear me down from my place if I were for one moment to contemplate parley or surrender. If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.

The cabinet stirred by Churchill's determination gave him a huge round of applause and the crisis of the British War Cabinet was over. England fought on alone until the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor and joined the war.

To read more details click on the title for a link to an excellent Wikipedia article on the series of meetings.